“Desire needs mystery,” says expert couples therapist and Mating in Captivity author Esther Perel. But for many couples, mystery has been in short supply during the pandemic. With the lockdown, work from home, travel bans, cancelled activities and social distancing, couples have never spent so much time together. It’s certainly true for my husband and me.
“How was your day?” I ask him over dinner. “Oops, never mind.” I know exactly how it was. I heard every Zoom meeting through the office door. I know what he ate for lunch, how his workout went and when he put a load of laundry (darks) in the washer. I don’t have any scintillating news to share myself. “I got the car washed,” I offer. Yeah, I told him already. This isn’t how it used to be. Liam usually traveled a lot, which made our time together feel special and exciting. I like having the guy around, but I also miss missing him.
Covid has upended many aspects of people’s lives, including the way we interact with our partners. Too much togetherness can have a negative impact on even the healthiest relationship, especially sexually. It seems counterintuitive. Closeness should be good for a relationship, right? But sexual attraction requires separation. As Perel writes, “Eroticism thrives on the unpredictable. Without an element of uncertainty there is no longing, no anticipation, frisson.” In other words, it’s hard to get turned on when you’re on top of each other.
I talked with Dr. Elizabeth Perri, a Chicago Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Certified Sex Therapist, about why this happens and what we can do about it. She’s helping many couples work through the issue. “My practice has never been busier,” says Perri. “Couples are really struggling. So much familiarity and comfort and spending so much time together can really drive passion away.” But now that things are opening up, it’s time to inject some heat to nurse our relationships back to health. Here’s how:
1. Stop Doing The Same Old Things
“Couples have gotten into the habit of spending all this time together, but what are you doing?”, asks Perri. “What does dinnertime look like? Are you just sitting at the counter together scrolling through your phones or watching TV? It’s really important to be intentional about quality time together. Actually plan a date, and put the phones down.” Perri recommends couples plan something new—even adventurous—together. “The threat of danger can stir up some of those passionate feelings again.” Maybe you’re not ready to skydive, but doing something physical like going on a challenging hike, playing a new sport or exploring a neighborhood can be exciting for you both. And planning those activities ahead of time means you can look forward to them, which adds to the pleasure.
2. Get Out On Your Own
Your partner may be accessible 24/7, but relying on them for all your needs can be stifling. “Always going to your partner for everything puts a lot of pressure on them or can be draining,” says Perri. “Creating separateness and autonomy and doing things outside of the relationship will make you more interesting and attractive. It’s very important to go out into the world separately. You want your partner to have the opportunity to miss you.” So tap your network of friends and outside family members for support, and make sure you nurture your own hobbies, career goals and interests. Take that postponed friends trip. It will make you more feel vibrant and turned on, and as a result, you’ll be more stimulating to your mate as well.
3. Explore Your Fantasies
Eroticism thrives on newness and naughtiness and some of the best ideas might already be in your own head. Perel says of fantasy, “it serves as a powerful antidote to loss of libido within the relationship. Simply put, love and tenderness are enriched by the spice of imagination.” Fantasies often deal with themes that are not politically correct. But even talking about these taboos can spice things up sexually. “Fantasies are not necessarily things you want to act out in real life—that’s what gives them the erotic charge,” says Perri. “But sometimes just sharing fantasies can be very pleasurable.” A peek into the dark side may be a perfect prescription to reignite the passion.
4. Know When to Seek Help
I’m looking forward to implementing these spicy suggestions, but they may not be the cure for every relationship. Sexual issues are often symptoms of a bigger relationship problem, Perri says, and for some couples, all this togetherness has brought unresolved issues to the surface. “We’ve all gone through this collective trauma, and it has affected all of us to varying degrees. A dip is totally normal, sexual relationships can wax and wane, but any sort of significant change (in your sex life) is a concern,” she says. If you’re really not getting along, your communication is suffering or there’s an increasing amount of conflict, harboring resentment or negative feelings toward your partner, consider consulting a professional. The good news is that with telehealth video consultations, seeing a sex therapist is easier than ever.
More From Better:
- Maintenance Sex—What Is It and Why Is It So Controversial? Experts Weigh In
- Is Monogamy Realistic? No, Says Dan Savage
- Love in the Time of Coronavirus: How to Stay Home Without Ruining Your Relationship
Marjie Killeen is a freelance writer and speaker specializing in communication, relationships and lifestyle. She’s the author of Better’s award-winning Sex & the Suburbs column and has worn many hats during her career including marketer, corporate trainer, actor and two-time mom. Now an empty nester, she and her husband split time between downtown Chicago and Bonita Springs, Florida. Read more of her work at stylechallengers.com and subscribe to the Better Letter to read her monthly column on sex and relationships in Better.